© BloomsburyCompanion: A self-help guide for women of 18th century Britain offers advice on how to fend off the advances of men and was said to be essential reading for 'virgins, wives and widows'
She that listens to wanton discourse has violated her ears.

This stern warning may sound a little severe - but in 1740 it was seen as essential to preserving the honour of many a blushing maiden.

It is among hundreds of pearls of wisdom dispensed in one of Britain's first self-help books, written to help women resist life's temptations.

Grandly titled The Lady's Companion: or an Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex, it features advice on everything from baking to fending off the advances of lusty men.

The rare book, which has just surfaced in a private collection, claims to be essential reading for 'virgins, wives or widows'.

Experts believe it is one of the earliest examples of the modern self-help book - proving that while many things have changed in the last three centuries, we've always had a weakness for so-called 'expert advice'.

Among the gems on offer is a warning to virgins that having impure thoughts is a 'deflowering of the mind'.

Meanwhile wives are advised that their duty to their husbands is 'first to his person, secondly to his reputation; thirdly to his fortune'.

The volume would have originally cost around three shillings but is expected to fetch up to ยฃ2,000 when it goes on sale at Bloomsbury Auctions in London on September 22.

The sale also features Britain's most extensive collection of historical cookbooks, some of which date back to the reign of Henry VIII.

© BloomsburyUnder the hammer: The book would have originally cost just three shillings but is expected to fetch ยฃ2,000 at an auction in London later this month
One, A Perfect School of Instructions for the Officers of the Mouth, was published in 1682 and includes a bizarre recipe for a tart containing the entire body of a tortoise.

The author of The Lady's Companion, whose name is not recorded, aims to advise women at three stages of their lives - as 'virgins, wives or widows'.

Those who fall into none of the categories - the spinsters - are given the alarming warning: 'An old maid is now thought such a curse.'

In the chapter titled Duty of Virgins, young girls are told: 'Every indecent curiosity or impure Fancy is a deflowering of the mind...she that listens to wanton discourse has violated her ears.'

And when in the company of lusty men, they are advised not to look them in the eye, as 'one careless glance gives more advantage than a hundred words'.

For wives, there is a whole chapter on A Wife's Behaviour to a Drunkard - which simply advises them to grin and bear it.

© UnknownFailing the taste test: This recipe for tortoise tart - served with crayfish - was published in 1682
It reads: 'We will suppose that the Husband loves Wine more than is Convenient...but a wife may still live without being miserable.'

The tips are just as grim for widows, who must spend their remaining years faithful to 'his body, his memory and his children'.

But while it is far removed from modern self-help books, experts say the guide gives a vivid portrayal of women in 18th century society.

Justin Phillips, a specialist at the auction house, said: 'The book was generally for ladies in the middle to upper classes. Perhaps they might be newly wealthy and aiming to better themselves.

'It paints a picture of a society where the man is at the head of the household, but clearly it was the lady that was running it.

'Self improvement was just as important then as it is now - the desire to "Keep up with the Jones".'

He added: 'Of course, a lot of the things it warned of probably went on behind closed doors anyway.'